Susanne Slater, President & CEO at Habitat for Humanity, Washington, D.C.
As President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., Susanne Slater understands firsthand the transformative power of home ownership. Slater is responsible for an impressive and diverse number of moving parts at Habitat—from advocating for change in policy and housing legislation, to ensuring construction and landscaping companies are working in unison, to fundraising, to overseeing volunteer operations—all to promote the organization’s ambitious mission of making affordable housing available to all.
We are honored to share words of wisdom from Susanne Slater, this month’s Millennial Mentor.
How did your education and initial work experience help prepare you for your role at Habitat for Humanity DC?
Getting an MBA helped immensely in preparing me for my professional career. The curriculum gave me a great appreciation for how financial management interacts with organizational management which in turn interacts with all facets of marketing–all crucial skills when crafting appropriate messaging for the variety of constituents we interact with at Habitat DC. My work on Capitol Hill at the beginning of my career was essential in understanding the local political process, and how to approach policy from a macro point of view.
Why do you believe home ownership has such an impact on people's lives and futures?
Home ownership is the single best way to build wealth in this country. But unfortunately, as housing costs continue to increase, salaries have tended to remain stagnant. It’s very hard for people to put enough of their salaries towards saving for a home, so we’re fighting everyday to make homeownership accessible to all–regardless of income.
But the benefits stretch far beyond wealth creation. When a family has a home, their lives become more stable. It’s a virtuous cycle: we see improvements to overall health, levels of education, and civic engagement. Children do better in school, and adults have greater opportunity to seek out professional education and invest in their own careers. Health outcomes improve when families are no longer exposed to the substandard living conditions that are far too commonplace within the rental market. Finally, homeowners are more civically engaged–they invest in and contribute to their communities.
When a family has a home, their lives become more stable. It’s a virtuous cycle: we see improvements to overall health, levels of education, and civic engagement. Children do better in school, and adults have greater opportunity to seek out professional education and invest in their own careers.
Habitat DC recently celebrated a milestone 25th anniversary. As you look ahead towards the coming 25 years, how will you continue to engage the next generation of donors and volunteers?
When it comes to engaging the next generation, messaging is absolutely key. Our most compelling message is a call to action for millennials to play a role in establishing a future America that is more just. For younger prospective donors, the idea that they can affect long-term change and help to permanently establish a more equitable society is exciting. And Habitat operates all over the world, which enables donors and volunteers to contribute directly to their own communities and make an impact at a local level, which is also a key priority for this age group.
How is social and digital media influencing how we interact with non-profits and cause-oriented organizations?
At Habitat, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of reach and accessibility because of social and digital media tools. While it may not to be cost-effective to deploy on-the-ground resources for garnering $10 donations, launching a social campaign to collect $100 from 300 people can make a difference. This makes giving back an option for more people.
What have you found to be some of the biggest challenges in attracting younger talent?
Fortunately, I’m in an advantaged position at Habitat DC in that we have a great deal of exposure. Our partnership with AmeriCorps means that we’re on the radar of young people early and often, and those who have a positive experience with us through AmeriCorps almost always reach out upon completing the program. That partnership alone is one of our best recruitment tools.
It also helps that we get to borrow brand equity, credibility, and reach from the umbrella Habitat for Humanity organization, which operates in nearly 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in over 70 countries around the world. As a worldwide organization, we prioritize our commitment to a common goal, despite the differences that exist between each region.
What advice would you give your 20-something self that you wish you knew when starting out your career?
I would tell myself what I’m constantly telling my 20-something children: give each job you have a fighting chance. I see the pressure millennials are under to constantly job hop and seek out new professional experiences, but I think there can be so much room for growth and opportunity at a company or organization if you stay for two to three and a half years. When you give a bit more of your time to something, it can completely change your career trajectory.
What are some of the productivity hacks you're using to balance such a demanding career, personal hobbies and interests, and everything else you have going on?
I treat any block of time as though it is extremely valuable. While 15-20 minutes before a conference call may not seem like enough time to get anything done, I usually find it’s the perfect window to check something off the list.
I also make it a priority to find periods of time during the week where I can completely power down and get away from work altogether. It helps me return to work refreshed, and I can look at a problem and find a solution I didn’t see before. When you yourself make time for family, friends, and personal passions outside of work, you become a better leader and manager.
Any words to live by?
Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton once said:
There is no social problem that can be solved if someone doesn’t have a home.
That’s a very motivating mantra. If someone is struggling with an addiction, or experiencing an employment problem, or a child is having educational problems, without a stable home, they can’t begin to address any of these issues. That’s why I’m inspired to change lives, and affect change at a fundamental level.